The term Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR) means any procedure agreed to by parties of a dispute in which they use the services of a neutral party to assist them in reaching an agreement and avoiding litigation.
Types of ADR include arbitration, mediation, negotiated rule making, neutral fact-finding and mini-trials.
With the exception of binding arbitration, the goal of ADR is to provide a forum for the parties to work towards a voluntary, consensual agreement as opposed to having a judge or other authority decide the case.
In addition to serving as a potential means of avoiding the expense, delay and uncertainty associated with traditional litigation, ADR is also intended as a vehicle for improving communication between the parties. ADR provides a forum for creative solutions to disputes that better meet the needs of the parties.
The Ashaiman Municipality currently has four ADR centres which use ADR procedures, and this has helped in reducing the number of cases that go to the police and the courts.
One of the centres is the Ashaiman Inter-Community Mediation Centre, which recently received a team of 12 students and three faculty members from the Division of Criminal Justice, California State University, Sacramento (CSUS), led by the Director of the Division, Professor Ernest Uwazie.
Since its establishment 19 years ago, the centre has complemented the courts in delivering justice to people in the community instead of resorting to the courts and the police.
The cases handled by the centre include disputes between landlords and tenants, land disputes, child maintenance, debt collection, among other trial issues.
In an interview with journalists at Ashaiman during the visit, Prof. Uwazie commended Ghana for embracing ADR as part of the country’s legal system to make justice accessible to all.
Prof. Uwazie, who is also the Director of the Centre for African Peace and Conflict Resolution, said: “I believe what is going on here in Ghana is a critical aspect of the justice delivery system worth emulating.
“What we have witnessed here is very much anchored within the community and creates access to justice by the poor people who may not be able to use the courts or for whom the courts and the police service may not be a suitable option for them for one reason or another.”
“It is also anchored within the African culture in terms of peacemaking by community members,” he added, stressing that it was that aspect of learning that brought the students down to Ghana to learn about the justice system to give them a better appreciation instead of reading about it in books and from other sources.
The visit was part of their tour of Ghana to assess the country’s practice of alternative conflict resolution.
Comparative justice system
Another leader Dr Nicole Fox of the Criminal Justice Division of CSUS, also commended Ghana for including ADR in its justice system, stressing that ADR was very promising and a way forward for many communities where access to justice was a major challenge.
She said Ghana’s ADR practice was an example that the United States of America could learn from, although in the US they practised a type of ADR that was less formalised than what was practised in Ghana. “We do have mediation for divorce and custody cases, but it is connected with the courts; and the tour of Ghana has exposed the students to a way that conflicts can be resolved better”, she said.
Ms Gabriella Wofford, a second-year Criminal Justice Student of CSUS, described the tour as very insightful, stressing that unlike in the US where people had only the courts and police to go to, the ADR mechanisms and systems here in Ghana had exposed her to some mediation tactics which could be used back home to resolve issues before they escalated into other processes.
The Head of the Ashaiman Inter-Community Meditation Centre, Mr Victor K. Nyadi, who briefed the team, said since its establishment in the Ashaiman Municipality, the ADR centre had complemented the courts in delivering justice to people in the community instead of resorting to the courts and the police.
Mr Nyadi said the success rate generally had been encouraging since usually, the parties to the ADR procedures agreed to the negotiated settlement.
As part of the faculty-led study at Ashaiman, the students from the California State University, Sacramento Division of Criminal Justice visited the Divisional Headquarters of the Ghana Police Service and also observed mediation proceedings at the Ashaiman Inter-Community Meditation Centre.
Credit: Graphic Online